On "Tempting Faith": Seductive Distractions From Fact ?
"Tempting Faith", by the former second in command for the Bush Administration's Office Of Faith Based Initiatives David Kuo, has been announced and, as reviewed by Keith Olberman, appears to feature two related claims. We will soon know - as Kuo's book hits the shelves - whether Keith Olberman's coverage presents a more or less faithful depiction of "Tempting Faith" or not. So - with that caveat, let me address "Tempting Faith" as rendered by Olberman.... Reinforcing a charge recently made by other voices on the right, Kuo seems to declare that the GOP holds evangelical Christians in utter contempt, and opponents of the Bush Administration and the GOP are, unsurprisingly, ecstatic about the timing which, depending on one's party affiliation, could hardly be better or worse. But all the glee (or glumness), over the book's possible impact in suppressing Christian right voter turnout on November 7th, appears to have distracted commentators from a second claim Kuo would appear to make. The claim, not a new one, goes like this : Christian evangelicals are held in contempt by Republicans - who sucker them with promises but never actually deliver.
Kuo's book - if Olberman's depiction holds - could be seen as employing a classic CIA ploy called "limited hang out" by which lesser truths are revealed, or sacrificed, to cover or distract from more significant underlying realities. In all the jubilant fanfare over his damning parade of the contempt and derision heaped by members of the Bush Administration on evangelicals, could David Kuo be intentionally reinforcing a preexisting misconception ( or perhaps he holds it himself although I find that hard to believe), that the GOP and the Christian right are distinct when, in reality, Christian right insurgents began taking over state-level GOP party machinery - starting in Texas - over a decade and a half ago ? Perhaps. But, reinforcement of that misconception would be the least of the work that "Tempting Faith" appears ( so far ) to do. Far more significantly, it seems to reinforce a belief, especially held on the left but not actually founded in analysis and fact but often trotted out as a catchy talking point, that the Christian right never gets anything!
Does the Christian right never get anything in return for its political support ?
Beyond the issue of foreign aid covered by the Globe, tell that to gay couples in Ohio who worry about medical visitation rights, or to poor women in Texas who just lost access to cheap pap smear tests and other reproductive rights services because money that went to Planned Parenthood clinics is being shifted to "Crisis Pregnancy" centers that do not provide those services.
Tell it to women in South Dakota who do not have the fortune to be "teenage religious virgins who get sodomized and raped and get pregnant" but just get raped and become pregnant and then can't get abortions in the state... Tell it to people in the developing world who suddenly find a little extra "baggage" - in the form of religious proselytizing - attached to US that prevents their starvation : want food - get God ?
Try telling that to the Christian organizations that can legally practice religious discrimination in their hiring practices and which have received billions of dollars in "Faith Based" funding since George W. Bush came into office. Or, tell it to teens in Texas suffering from STD's in the STD boom that has followed the legal imposition "Abstinence Only" education in the state.....
I could go on. But, is it really necessary ? Oh yes - I should mention the billions of extra dollars the Bush Administration says it disbursed through the Faith Based program. Doesn't David Kuo mention that during his time as #2 at the White House Office Of Faith Based Initiatives that his office only got 80 million dollars ? Well yes, and that's accurate.... but it's also highly misleading because there are now ten different "faith based" offices attached to different federal funding programs and those distributed about 2.2 billion dollars last year in grants to faith based orgs - and that doesn't include block grants made to states. Well, what about Kuo's claim that the Bush Administration only provided a pittance of the promised 8 billion dollars in new money ? - That is, again, correct but very misleading : The "faith based" initiative isn't distributing new money - it's actually shifting existing federal spending on social programs onto religious groups, and the likely intended goal is to eventually eliminate all "secular" funding for social programs so that it all comes through churches and "faith based" organizations. Fun, huh ? David Kuo - under the tutelage of Marvin Olasky - was one of the thinkers cooking up these sorts of schemes, and Kuo's anger about Bush's reneged on promises is likely real, and Kuo may very well deeply care about poverty in America..... but on his own terms. David Kuo helped draft the Gingrich revolution's "Contract With The American Family", and at that point he was apparently comfortable with the elimination of large swaths of current federal agencies to contribute to that document. Meanwhile, sustained analyses such as the Boston Globe's show that the Bush Administration, at least in the realm of foreign aid, has made a concerted effort to reroute real federal dollars from secular aid groups and towards Christian charity organizations. What's a few hundred million or a few billion dollars per year ? Well, to start with that sort of moeny can buy an awful lot of cufflinks, pens, and pads of paper.
Additionally, it should be noted that many of these new flows of federal aid to religious groups will not be easily stemmed or reversed - efforts to do so will extract political cost amid howls - from Christian right groups - of "persecution". Some of the gains of the religious right under George W. Bush will very likely - even if Republicans are hounded from the White House in 2008 - survive until the next GOP tide sweeps in to push the watermark yet a bit higher. So it goes.
Incremental processes, cultural shifts in this case, are hard to notice. To view Christian right voters as simpletons who get nothing in return for their votes ignores considerable disturbing evidence to the contrary and is in the end similar to denial of Global Warming. In both cases a typical human perceptual shortcoming, an inability to notice, acknowledge, or respond to processes of gradual change - and a retreat, into denial, from occasional moments of awareness of the predicament, leads us to the fate of the boiled frog.
Rumor has it that a frog placed in a pot of water over a heat source and will not think to hop out as the temperature of water in the pot rises but will simply boil to death. That may be an urban legend but as an analogy it accurately depicts the position of the secular Americans and the left as the Christian right applies steady pressure to move American culture and politics towards a Christian nationalist or reconstructionist vision.
Lately, the current sagging political fortune of the Christian right movement tempts many toward a faith that is blind to underlying facts and to the structural elements and processes of the Christian right that work to gradually change American and even world culture and which are still for the most part only feebly resisted. The Christian right - in the wake of televangelist scandals - was pronounced "dead" in the late 1980's. A few years later Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition had provided the muscle for a GOP takeover of Congress and thus a platform from which to harass and tie down the Clinton Adminstration. The Christian right has washed in, over the past two and a half decades, in successive political waves - each leaving a somewhat higher watermark, each shifting federal and state policy, political ideas and assumptions, and legislation and spending patterns, towards a rough vision held by leaders of the Christian and religious right coalition. Call it "Reconstructionist", "Dominionist", or "Christian Nationalist" - but, the direction has been clear enough and progress steady enough for alarm. Except that it's incremental progress and so would be opponents simply become habituated rather than alarmed.
The title of "Tempting Faith" seems oddly appropriate though, because, faith is by definition not empirical, and so it is dangerous to rely on when empiricism is called for. To some extent over the past three decades political fortunes of Democrats and Republicans have waxed and waned, but the alleged return to an eternal political set point is - like the geocentric universe - a mythic or discredited model of reality because, in fact., the America political midpoint has - amidst oscillations - moved inexorably right. The American left would like to latch on to a "tempting faith" that somehow the ideological extremity of the Bush Administration, and its apparent close ties to the Christian right, was a fluke and that the Christian right is ephemeral and will waft away in the current scandals.... rather than acknowledge that the movement is sophisticated and diversified with its own culture, media, institutions, and economy. That surely, for many, is indeed a tempting faith. But, it's not real.
On "Tempting Faith": Seductive Distractions From Fact ? | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)
On "Tempting Faith": Seductive Distractions From Fact ? | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)